Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Tories' Nightmare - Winning in 2010

Over on the 'skipper' blog, Bill Jones examines the polling evidence in yesterday's Guardian, suggesting that if any sign of recovery can be perceived by 2010 then Gordon Brown could still win. He looks back at the situation for the Major government in 1992, which squeaked a victory against all odds for precisely that reason. The analogy offers little comfort for the Tories.

In 1992, even the Tories were expecting to lose. Had they done so, Neil Kinnock would have become Prime Minister. His Chancellor would have been John Smith, who at that time was following a remarkably similar path to Tory Chancellor Norman Lamont, esepcially with relation to the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. As PM, Kinnock would have thus been the man to preside over 'Black Wednesday', and the subsequent collapse of economic confidence. He would have lost the next election, and Labour's reputation for economic competence would have sunk into the earth's crust, probably not to emerge again for another decade or two. The Tories, meanwhile, would have elected a fresh leader after Major's defeat - possibly Michael Heseltine or Ken Clarke. Reinvigorated, they would have won the 1997 election and would now be enjoying the summer of a second long spell in government. Instead, reality gave Major his election win in 1992, and doomed the Tories to lengthy opposition from 1997.

So what if Cameron wins in 2010? Could he be subject to the hypothetical scenario outlined above for Kinnock? What if the recession does indeed last as long as some commentators say - up to a decade. If it continues to get worse, even a brief boost from the 2012 Olympics won't help the sitting government much. Elected on a promise of getting the country moving again, Cameron could face the ire of a frustrated electorate if he failed to deliver by 2015. A rejuvenated Labour Party, under a fresh leader (James Purnell? Jon Cruddas even?) might then sweep back into power, ready to take the helm as the real recovery starts to works its way in.

Far-fetched, possibly, but few Tories are looking with full equanimity at winning in 2010. After all, Cameron's apology wasn't just about not seeing the recession on the way. It was really about the failure of the Tories to have devised a distinct economic vision to Labour. Even now, they are treading warily around the policy pit to try and determine their best way forward. This is a crisis with few answers, but plenty of potential crashes. If even the President Messiah is struggling, what chance a mere Tory leader with no experience of government?

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